Start with a narrow wisp of fleece about 10 cm long.
Wrap it around your finger tip as if winding a ball of yarn with your fingers, changing direction as you go along, adding more layers until approx 2cm across (you can add more layers for bigger balls).
Make sure that the end fibres are spread evenly around the outside of the ball.
Roll softly between the palms of your hands before dipping the ball into warm soapy water to wet the fibres through.
Roll very softly in your hands at first, gradually adding more pressure until you can feel that it has hardened.
Your finished balls should bounce!Cathy Unwin
Felting needles were first used in the textile industry to manufacture non-woven fabrics. The needles are either triangular or four-sided with small barbs on each of the sides at the pointed end.
In industry the needles are closely set into a needle board and raised and lowered through a loose web of fibres. As the barbed needles penetrate the fibres they push fibres from the upper layers down through the lower layers and by repeating this action the fibres become entangled.
Feltmakers are now recognising the potential of these needles in creating detailed designs in felt and also for sculpting wool fibres into three dimensional shapes.
Felting needles are very sharp and should be used with care. When not in use they should be stored with the points protected by a cork, piece of foam rubber or even a ‘felt ball’ for safety. They are not suitable for use by young children.
Hold the smooth shank firmly between thumb and first finger and brace the second and third fingers lower down the needle to steady it and give extra control. Holders into which several needles can be inserted can be purchased but personally I like the control possible when working with a single needle. Start with a simple project first until you feel at home with the technique.
This is the simplest project of all and your first attempt could be used to safely protect the point of your needle when not in use. You will need: a foam sponge, felting needle and some wool fibres.
Tease out some fibres into a loose pile.
Pick up a bundle of fibres and place in the palm of your hand.
Roll the fibres lightly in a circular movement between the palms of your hands until the fibres form a ball approximately the size of a golf ball.
Place fibres on foam sponge.
Place sponge on a flat surface. If working on your knee place the sponge on a tray so that the needle will not stick into you.
Gently poke the point of the needle in and out of the fibres, turning the bundle from time to time until a regular ball shape is obtained.
If the ball is to be larger add another layer of fibres to the surface and needle lightly into shape.
Continue in this way until the required size is reached.
As the shape evolves increase the amount of needling. You will gradually feel the fibres tightening up and becoming firm.
Decoration can be added to the surface by needling contrating fibres to the surface.
To finish the ball and disguise the holes made by the needles and to give a smooth finish the surface of the ball can be wet felted.
Fill a small bowl with warm water and dip the ball into the water- the aim is to wet only the surface of the ball.
Rub the wet surface with soap and rub gently for a few minutes.
Rinse the soap off, remove as much water as possible, reshape and air dry.
Finally, you can further decorate the ball by adding stitches and beads. Uses – jewellery, fastenings on felt bags, toys and decorations depending on the size and colours. Uses are limited only by your imagination.
Use up all your off cuts of felt in the middle of the balls - it saves time on rolling and uses up all those left over bits you don’t know what to do with!
To save time, make 3 beads half-felted and then roll the 3 at the same time in your hand rather than one at a time!!
When you have made a set of balls, don’t wash them to remove the soap: put them into a small washing machine netted bag (those used to hold tablets) and put them into your machine with your everyday washing. They firm up even more and the soap is rinsed out in the process. Remember not to put the balls into a white or delicate wash, you might end up with some interesting results!
If you want to make a set of balls say for a necklace and bracelet set then lay out all your fibres beforehand in equal amounts. You will then have all you beads looking the same!
Adding silks and other fibres to the top layer of a ball gives extra depth/sparkle etc. Remember these types of fibres don’t felt on their own so either they need to be incorporated with the top layer of fleece or needle felted in (great for making spots!)
When using your balls for jewellery (necklaces and bracelets) a sharp leather needle and a pair of pliers are great if the beads are very firm!